Bend It Like Beckham was a movie about women playing soccer before players like Megan Rapinoe brought it to the world’s attention for unequal pay. The film also has an intersectional look at feminism, with the main struggle being that of Jess, an Indian girl who loves soccer, but also has the cultural expectations of her family to deal with.
As part of her culture, Jess is expected to give up soccer, even though she is really good at it, and instead learn to cook and find a nice Indian boy to marry. After being spotted by Jules, who plays on a soccer team, Jess is recruited to join the team, where she becomes friends with Jules and gains opportunities to become a professional soccer player.
The film shows women playing soccer on a team where they are supportive of each other, and have a supportive coach, Joe. However, they could lose Joe if he gets a better job, such as coaching a men’s team. All the issues that still face soccer players today are touched on, such as low attendance at matches.
Jess isn’t the only one fighting her family’s idea of what a woman should be, as Jules deals with a mother who thinks sports are unfeminine and actively discourages Jules from playing. Interestingly, in both cases, the girls fathers are the supportive parent, though it takes Jess’ father a bit longer to get there.
The one aspect of the film that is a bit eye rolling is when Jess and Jules fight over both having feelings for Joe. However, this storyline sets up Jules mother thinking she’s a lesbian and reacting badly, and creating an opportunity for Jules mother to get to know her.
The main advocates for both female characters are men. For Jess, it’s Joe and her dad, as well as her friend Tony, and for Jules, it’s also her father. The only female advocates the main characters have advocating for them are each other. This does bring attention to the fact that sexism doesn’t always come from men.
The film ends with Jess, with her fathers permission, and the help of the team, sneaking out of her sisters wedding to attend the finals match, where she and Jules are both offered scholarships to play soccer in California, which they are allowed to take because of their fathers support.
Watching Bend It Like Beckham today, the film really holds up. It presents a complicated view of female characters and their relationship to each other and their families, something we still don’t see enough of today.
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